Thursday, June 13, 2013

Removing Dead Pigs From the Food Supply

Chinese authorities are trying to removed diseased and dead pigs from the food supply. This blog has reported on a number of local crackdowns on illegal butchers over the last few years and the problem is getting more attention following the appearance of dead pigs in Shanghai's Huangpu River earlier this year.

In Zhangzhou, a small city in Fujian Province, authorities discovered a dead-pig-selling operation operated by two village ladies who were in charge of the "sanitary" disposal of dead pigs in their villages. According to allegations in a news media article, last August a lady named Lin began butchering and selling pork from the dead pigs she collected for disposal. In January of 2013 she joined up with another lady to sell dead pigs and they hired three migrants from Henan Province to work for them. They paid 0.2  to 1.6 yuan per kg for the pigs, butchered them, packed the pork in 20-kg boxes and stored it in a frozen meat locker. They quickly filled the 6,000-kg unit and looked for more storage. They sent the pork by truck to Guangdong, Jiangxi, Hunan and other places for final sale. Authorities accuse the ladies of selling 20-30 metric tons of pork before they were arrested in March.

Chinese agricultural authorities have estimated that the mortality rate for pigs is 3 to 5 percent. An executive with Wens Group--one of China's largest poultry and pork-producers--estimated that their farmers' pig mortality rate was 5 percent and exceeded 6 percent in the first quarter of 2012. One small-scale farmer raising about 150 pigs said that about 90 out of 100 of his swine reach the market--the other ten succumb to disease. The mortality rate is highest for young pigs at the weaning and nursery stages. During the pig diarrhea epidemic in 2011, the mortality rate was as high as 50 percent for young pigs.

In Qingdao, a reporter estimated that the surrounding region's 4-million-head annual production of hogs implies 120,000-200,000 dead pigs per year. He reports that farmers usually bury small pigs under 25 kilograms when they die, but they have a strong incentive to sell larger pigs over 50 kg to be butchered. The government subsidy for sanitary disposal is a flat 80 yuan per pig. Dead pigs can be sold for 1 or 2 yuan per kg, so the proceeds from selling a large pig often exceeds the subsidy. Diseased pigs that are still alive get a price slightly below the market price.

Farmers in the Qingdao area say fewer and fewer people are coming to buy the dead pigs and the reporter's interviews with ten pig dealers found only one who admitted buying dead pigs. However, burying the pigs is a costly headache. Regulations require them to be buried two meters deep, but few farmers want to go to that much trouble. The pit has to be lined with concrete to prevent the residue from leaking into the groundwater. There is also risk that rain will wash them away or they will be dug up by animals. Consequently, many dead pigs are thrown away or fed to dogs.

In Jiangxi Province, authorities have budgeted 67 million yuan (about $11 million) to subsidize disposal of sick and diseased hogs, but the subsidy is paid to slaughter facilities to dispose of dead hogs. Jiangxi reported slaughtering a record 10 million hogs in 2012 in 618 slaughter facilities.

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